for Robert Adamson, 1943–2022

First words, last words—
mostly they’re inaudible,
like the mimicry of bowerbirds
or a radio through cotton wool
with fuzz around the frequency.
You guess at what the words might be
but no guess seems quite plausible.

First words, last words,
the open mouth might hold a place
to fill whenever time affords
a waking dream, or some such phrase,
or feathers found inside a book
of Shelley that you turned and shook
until they molted to the floor.
In piles of catalogs you find
the dead leave everything behind.

First word, last word,
more cry than word, more wheeze than cry:
through fuzz and cotton wool you heard
no last hello or first good-bye,
but muttering that might have been
today, berley, yes, or spin;
such whispers don’t quite signify.

First word, last word,
they sound both civilized and wild,
part human and part bowerbird,
the parts as yet unreconciled.
You keep awake as daylight fails
beside a crib or bed with rails—
first as parent, then as child—
and listen for a sign of death,
each breath in slow pursuit of breath.